The Friday Pickle: Should Our Lyrics Be More Accessible?

Posted by Craig Borlase on 29 January 2015

Last week on our Facebook page we stuck a link to an article that nominated ten songs that we ought to stop singing.

Reading through the hundred comments that you posted it was clear that the piece hit a nerve... Actually, quite a few nerves.

Our words matter. What we sing matters and how we talk to and about each other on Facebook matters. But these words that we use are not fixed.

Just like glaciers and tectonic plates, galaxies and the very hairs on our head, language is constantly moving, always changing. One generation’s cuss becomes another’s badge of honour. An innocent phrase one year can be loaded with hate the next.

We’ve quoted this before, and we’ll quote it again, but according to Dr Eugene Peterson – author of The Message – the church is experiencing a word-crisis. There are times when our words are deeply offensive to God.

‘A cliché is as bad as a blasphemy,’ he told the Church Times some while back.

Blasphemy’s a serious business, serious enough for Leviticus 24 to point out repeatedly that anyone caught doing it must be stoned to death. Numbers 15 downgrades the punishment slightly to merely being exiled, but don’t forget that the charge was enough to get Jesus – and Stephen – killed.

He highlights tired old phrases like ‘Jesus saves’, ‘born-again’, ‘God is love’ and ‘All things work together...’ as ‘pious conventions’ which, once they’ve lost their freshness, lead to us taking the name of God in vain.

‘Passionate words of men and women spoken in ecstasy can end up flattened on the page and dissected with an impersonal eye,’ he warns. ‘Wild words wrung out of excruciating suffering can be skinned and stuffed, mounted and labeled as museum specimens.’

Should our lyrics be more accessible? Of course they should. Is there really any point in trying to construct a definitive and fixed list of ‘songs that are accessible’ and another of those that are not?

So, today’s pickle isn’t really a pickle, so much as it is an olive branch. Perhaps what we could ask ourselves is this: Do our lyrics separate us, or do they invite others in?

What do the lyrics that we use communicate to those who need to hear them most? And are those words the sum total of what we have to say about God, or is there more to say, away from the music, away from the service, in places where a real discussion can take place?

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